Now for some Russian anecdotes.
1. Oh, the sequins! I either forgot how popular sequins/glitter/rhinestones are over here, or perhaps it just amazes and dazzles me equally every time. One standout shirt was at the airport: skin-tight and tie-dyed, featuring sequined cartoon kittens playing merrily. This shirt was sported by a mom, probably in her late 20s or early 30s. Fantastic. My Muscovite friend once told me that American Apparel would never make it in Russia; it’s too plain. Despite the brand’s predisposition to neon and spandex fabrics, I understand and find myself agreeing with his assessment. (Sept. 1, Moscow)
2. The flight from Moscow to Khanty-Mansiysk was just great. I sat with a mother and her son, the son being anywhere in the range of 5-15 years old (I have trouble distinguishing children’s ages). The best part of the flight was when he asked me to translate what was written on his sweater: most unexpectedly, it turned out to be Eminem song lyrics (of the appropriate-enough-to-be-printed-on-a-child’s-sweater variety). We “argued” over whether one particular line was from Eminem’s previous duet with Dido, or a more recent song with Rihanna. I’m still 1,000,000,000% sure that it was the one with Dido, but whatevernobiggieIdon’tmindlosingtoakidoranything. Ahem. (Sept. 02, in the air)
3. People’s reactions to Me, The American are quite diverse. There are many tourists here because of the World Chess Cup (! details to come in another post) and the annual Biathlon (ski shooting), so people who have dealt with tourists before don’t pay me any mind (a relief). But there seems to be this whole other portion of the population that flips out when they meet me. When I met some first year students in the hall that I will potentially be teaching, they literally screamed. I was flabbergasted – hahahaha, what on Earth is going on?!!? They inundated me with questions punctured by gasps of excitement. We clogged up the entire hallway; no one could get past this squirming pile of elation. (Sept 2, Yugra State Univ) On the same note, one day I went to buy some deodorant. I know what you’re thinking! It’s Siberia! The only reason they would need deodorant is to block the pores so no more heat escapes out of the body! Incorrect. We underwent a very brief Indian Summer (бабье лето, it’s called) and, believe it or not, it was deodorant-needing-ly warm. In any case, it was a tiny little “emergency cosmetics” kiosk, so I had to ask the cashier for what I wanted. I said, “deodorant, plain taste, please.” Oh, it seems to me that could have been worded better, but alas, what’s done is done! “Where are you from?” “From America.” Her face erupted in shock and amazement as I was once again inundated with questions. She withheld my deodorant, either consciously or subconsciously, as collateral to keep us chatting. Eventually, as I had errands to run and patience to learn (irony here), so I asked for my deodorant and left. That was fun. (Sept 7, KhM)
4. It’s not all excitement and curiosity, though – I experienced an awkward, relatively tense moment on the bus one evening. I was sitting next to a man on the bus when he asked me something. He was hard to understand, so I asked him to repeat it more or less 40 more times. Naturally, it was thus revealed that I was a Grade A Foreigner. “From the Pribaltics?” Er, no, not exactly. “If it’s not a secret, where are you from?” Reluctantly, and quietly, I told him from America. He stares at me deeply, intensely, and quite seriously says, “I’m not especially fond of America.” I stuttered a bit out of discomfort, and then, as assertively as possible, stated that people are people and governments are governments, trying to appeal to the Russian dislike of the state (and reveling in the fact that I managed this in only four words, besides “and”, and two of them were the same (люди – люди, и государства – государства)). I’d like to think he thought about that, but then he began talking about his experiences as a soldier and trailed off into uncomfortable memories. His stop came (thankfully) and as he left, he repeated, “I don’t especially like America” (wince). But then, at the last second, he added, “But, good luck.” That was very reassuring and quite a positive ending to an uncomfortable situation. (Sept. 10, KhM bus)
5. Police woman in absurdly high heels. (Sept 7, KhM sidewalk)